Mooncakes are a Chinese pastry traditionally eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋節), an important Chinese holiday that celebrates the end of the autumn harvest by gathering friends and family, giving thanks, and honoring the moon. Sometimes also called the Mooncake Festival or August Moon Festival, it is celebrated on the 15th day of the eighth month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar — which falls anywhere between mid-September and early October of the Gregorian calendar — when the moon is thought to be at its roundest and brightest. Because of this, mooncakes usually start to appear in July and linger for weeks after the holiday.
There are many varieties of mooncakes, but the most famous is the Cantonese-style baked mooncake with a delicately patterned, glossy golden crust wrapped around a sweet, dense filling that sometimes contains one or more whole salted duck egg yolks in the center, symbolizing the full moon. Classic filling flavors include lotus seed paste (white or red/brown), sweet bean pastes (usually red bean but sometimes green bean/mung bean or black bean), and mixed nuts. The Toisan-style winter melon filling is also quite common in Boston’s Chinatown.
Other regional twists include Suzhou-style flaky crusts or Teochew “thousand-layer” crusts. Modern mooncakes have also led to novel “snow skin” mochi crusts, as well as trendy fillings such as pineapple or green tea.
These desserts are not meant to be eaten alone, but instead sliced into small wedges and shared among family and friends.
While commercial brands are readily available to buy in gift boxes at your local Asian market, Boston is fortunate to have many Chinese bakeries that offer this seasonal treat. Plus, most bakeries sell them individually, so you can have the opportunity to sample just one or mix and match flavors in a box.
Offerings at each bakery are subject to change, and, as always, bring cash — many spots on this list are cash-only or have a credit card minimum.
See also: Great Bakeries in Boston’s ChinatownRead More